2011 // USA //Jay and Mark Duplass // November 18, 2011 //Digital Theatrical Projection (Landmark Tivoli Theater)
If it achieves nothing else, Jeff, Who Lives at Home definitely demonstrates that writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass, rascal-princes of the Mumblecore scene, are capable of subsuming that cinematic movement's distinctive aesthetic (anti-aesthetic, really) and acidic comic sensibility in the service of a star-powered, warm-and-fuzzy indie dramedy. To label Jeff a slick piece of soulless hackwork goes a bit too far, and doesn't reflect the gentle, earnest character of the film's sentimentality. It's mostly inoffensive and thoroughly mild, a rote exercise in cinematic cliché with unfortunate ambitions of profundity.
The titular Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirtysomething unemployed schlub dwelling in his widowed mother's basement in Baton Rouge, where he passes the time with bong hits and repeated viewings of the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs. The latter has nursed within Jeff a distressing obsession with omens and destiny, and ultimately provides the kick-start for a kind of Long Day of the Soul. This odyssey has him crossing paths with his asshole brother Pat (Ed Helms), who enlists Jeff in a scheme to spy on his deeply (and justifiably) dissatisfied wife, Linda (Judy Greer). There is also a subplot about the brothers' exasperated mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who is attempting to unmask a secret admirer at her workplace. (This strand is both wholly superfluous and also the most engaging and authentically sweet aspect of the film, primarily due to Sarandon's masterful ability to elevate absolutely anything she appears in.)
The film's slightly arch references to Shyamalan (including the casting of The Village alum Greer) signal that Jeff is aiming to conclude with a climactic twist, or at least of panoply of head-scratching coincidences. The film might be merely pleasant and forgettable, were it content with being a goofy dramedy about curdled family bonds and thwarted dreams. Yet Jeff has an irksome investment in Depak Chopra-tinted bromides about purposeful messages from the cosmos, even as it conveys such pablum with an ironic smirk. Jeff seems to assert that winking while delivering vacuous New Age stoner wisdom absolves it of the sin of ridiculousness. Instead, it just adds a dose of obnoxiousness.